Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies
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Center for Near Eastern and North African Studies (1975)
The Center for Near Eastern and North African Studies was established by action of the Board of Regents in the late spring of 1961, coincident with other centers for China, South and Southeast Asia, and Russia. All were modeled on the extant Center for Japanese Studies, with a common mandate to encourage and coordinate teaching and research, for each of these areas, throughout the University structure. This has turned out to be particularly important where work in the social sciences, and on the modern period, is concerned, the faculty members and students involved being scattered in a variety of disciplinary departments. After being housed briefly in Angell Hall, the centers were allocated Lane Hall and have been based there ever since.
Originally named the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies, it was given its current name in 1963 in recognition of the fact that a major emphasis on North Africa was being developed, at a time when that region was being largely ignored by other universities.
Originally the faculty of the Center consisted of 17 persons, one each in the departments of Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History of Art, and Political Science, and 12 in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. This latter, established in 1949 and chaired by Professor George G. Cameron, was the nucleus from which the larger program developed. It housed specialists in ancient, Biblical, and Islamic history and civilizations, and the languages and literatures of the area. Some faculty held joint appointments in two departments, but these arrangements declined in number and significance as the program expanded and disciplinary specialization, as opposed to “area studies,” increased. At that point there were approximately seven undergraduates and some 65 graduate students engaged in study of the area in all departments.
Some months after the Center’s establishment, a ten-year grant of $600,000 was received from the Ford Foundation to support the Center’s program in both training and research, and in the ensuing year administration of U.S. Office of Education support was assigned to the Center, achieving the interdepartmental coordination of resources and planning envisaged in the original blueprint for the area centers.
The following decade saw major expansion of staff, curriculum and, particularly, joint faculty-student field research projects. The majority of these were in modern history and anthropology, and were conducted largely in Morocco, Egypt, and Iran. A number of significant monographs, on results of this work, have subsequently been published. And, among other accomplishments, the linguistic research of Professor Ernest Abdel-Massih resulted in the publication by the Center of two complete series of lessons, grammars, lexicons and tapes for teaching Moroccan Arabic and Middle Atlas Berber. These undertakings were further assisted by a $90,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in 1966 to permit expansion of the North African program, and a similar amount, from the same source, in 1971 to allow the completion of ongoing activities in the transition period during which major foundation assistance terminated for all the area programs.
In the early seventies, under the guidance of Professor K. Allin Luther, a very productive program of preparation of instructional materials on the Near East for use in high school curriculums was initiated, and continuing support for it was secured from the U.S. Office of Education. To the present it has produced eleven modules, on such subjects as Egypt in the Nineteenth Century, and Modern Algeria, which have been tested and employed in schools in a number of different parts of the country in addition to the State of Michigan.
In 1975 the faculty consisted of 35 members, covering all major fields from prehistoric archaeology to contemporary politics, including the ancient and Biblical civilizations of Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt, the Medieval Islamic world, and the modern Arab states, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and Afghanistan. Ancillary resources on the adjacent Balkan countries, the USSR, and the borders with South Asia have become available in the other area programs. There were, in 1975, 16 undergraduate and 139 graduate students doing degrees in the various disciplines. In the entire period 1961-75, a total of 97 B.A.s, 181 M.A.s, and 86 Ph.D.s were awarded, with the largest numbers occurring, predictably, in languages and literatures in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, and in history. By this time, the annual U.S. Office of Education review of language and area centers, in connection with the allocation of support for instruction and fellowships, rated our program one of the best in the country.
The original planning for the establishment of the Center was headed by Professor William D. Schorger (Anthropology), who has served as its Director during the periods 1961-71, and 1974 to the present writing. Professor K. Allin Luther (Near Eastern Studies) served as Director for the period 1971-74, and there was one Acting Director prior to 1975: Professor George L. Grassmuck (Political Science) served for the second half of 1966-67.